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Chapter 10


            When Kayeen reentered the inn he found that someone had carried Damyan up to a room. He wanted to talk with the Ranger again but that could wait. Tiev had joined Foglaid at his table and Kayeen walked over to join them.

            I thought you were going to kill him. What have you done? Tiev asked as Kayeen found his seat.

            He makes everything else easier. Were short on men already. How many have we turned?

            Weve got only two of the officers but about two thirds the crew are in our pocket. That stunt you pulled beheading Givat and tying his boys up to the mast cowed most and inspired some. I dont think well win over many more than we have.

            Theres no need to pacify the rest, Kayeen said. We can hold them below with Damyan to guard until after weve taken the Mist.

            Can he be trusted?

            More than either of you.

            Kayeen looked at Tiev and Foglaid who had remained silent through the conversation. Tiev met his gave and, after a moment, gave a nod. Foglaid seemed to be intensely scrutinizing the grain pattern on the tabletop. His complete loyalty was still in question but for now there was nothing to do about it. He was too much of a coward to be any real threat anyways.

            Tiev, stay with Yashin. We dont want him knowing whats really happening until it is too late. Foglaid, start spreading word to our crew that its happening this run. Ill wake Damyan and let him in on our plan. Ill see you both aboard the Blue Spray.


            Just after sunset all were on the ship and Takino was a city vanishing in the distance. As soon as Kayeen began pulling on the wind Yashin looked at him in surprise then in anger. He realized that they were moving off course but he was wise enough to realize that a confrontation now could be deadly. He knew he was losing grip on his crew. Hed sent word to his father letting him know of the situation and for now he just had to wait. Most of the crew would ride with whoever had the upper hand. They would be his again as soon as he was able to pull in outside help.

            Through the night they skipped across the water at a pace that Kayeen had found sustainable over the long run. It wasnt nearly the speed he had put on at first, but the young man had proven that he could maintain this speed almost indefinitely and it was still nearly twice that the Blue Spray used to do on her best day.

            Ship ho!

            A lookout in the crows nest called down the sighting. Yashin should have been in bed but had chosen to remain on deck through the night. Nearly everyone had and there was an air of expectation that only intensified with the sighting.

            Kayeen looked over and nodded to Foglaid and Damyan then turned toward the captain. Yashin, Id like to see you in my cabin. Tiev, wake any officers not already up and have them all meet us there.

            Tiev would have to be dealt with. He was clearly Kayeens man now. A pity his ambition would cost him. He was a fine officer and nearly ready for his own crew. Now he would be blacklisted by the houses. He wouldnt even be a captain on a decades old fishing trawler now.

            Yashin entered into the captains cabin that had, until recently, been his. Kayeen followed him in and immediately the captain rounded on the boy. What are we doing? Is that the Mist youve had us chasing down all night?


            For what? We cant hold all her cargo, were nearly full ourselves. Are you going to sink her? Is this some vendetta?

            Im going to take her.

            Yashin was taken back by that. His shock almost gave way to laughter. Kayeens ambition was starting to exceed his grasp here. If Yashin encouraged the endeavor he would find it that much easier to shake the boys grasp. It was too late in the season to pass Storms Bend. There was no way to keep the ships at sea all winter. They would have to harbor soon and now the boy would have two ships to watch when he inspired no loyalty that went beyond his reach. Yashin tried not to let his hope show on his face, but he was almost sure he failed miserably.

            One by one the other seven men entered the room and took seats around the officers table. Tiev came in last, shut the door, and remained standing behind Nicholai, Yashins only son. Kayeen looked over to Tiev and asked, Which ones are for us?

            Tiev nodded to Sagami and patted Nicholais shoulder. Yashins eyes nearly popped from his head. He tried to stand and found himself bound by magic. What have you done! Nicholai looked at his father but quickly looked down and away.

            Tiev, tie the rest up. Sagami, youre with me. Nicholai, grab a bow and join the men gathering on the forecastle.

            Yashin continued to struggle vainly against the bonds of both rope and magic long after the others were gone. His vision was a haze of rage.


            Kayeen and Sagami went out onto the deck and were met by Foglaid. Everyone else was a bustle of activity as they were being armed and gathering to position.

            T Two dead. Theirs. We have one sailor with a cut up arm. One one of theirs Killed by a by a sailor. The other, tried to resist then he just just dropped dead. Damyan yelled something fierce then started, he started cry, crying. That ended other resistance quick. Hes watching the others below.

            Kayeen just nodded then turned to Tiev who had just joined them. What do you think?

            We shoot past them then swing around them with the rising sun to our backs. It should be bloodless but theres no sense giving up an advantage.

            You still think we can do this without violence?

            Their captain isnt much liked. You say youre from the houses to bring him justice and theyll hand you the man on a silver platter. By the time they know better weve got them. You sure youre strong enough?

            Ill have to be, wont I?


            Within the hour they had moved into position as the grey of predawn lightened the sky behind them. Nicholai was on the forecastle with his older friend, Varlam. I want him.

            Shut it. Look at you bouncing. Youre too nervous. You take Foglaid. Ive got the witch. Im a better shot anyways.

            What are we waiting for? Lets do this.

            We wait until were closer. Everyones ready for action now. Too alert.

            The two waited with six others spaced in pairs on the forecastle. They waited and watched as the two ships drew ever closer. The other ship grew ever larger and soon every was focused on the Mist. On the deck most of the men were ready with grappling ropes and swords. Sagami and Foglaid were a bit behind the rest and the weaselly man had his back to the two.

            Soon, Varlam put a steadying hand on the boys shoulder. He hated asking a fourteen year old boy to do this but it was the only way they saw to help Yashin retake his ship. Very soon.

            No, now.

            Nicholai raised his bow and released. Varlam cursed then swung his bow toward the quarterdeck and fired.



            Kayeen heard Tiev call out and turned just as an arrow struck him below the shoulder in his left arm. Two of the men closest rushed up the quarterdeck with swords drawn. Quick as thought Kayeen raised and launched a small ball of fire towards the foremast of the other ship. Tiev engaged one of the men but the other swung at Kayeen before he had pulled his own sword free. The blade cut into his right arm and his sword clattered to the ground behind him. He threw himself backwards, falling to the ground narrowly avoiding another slash. His right arm flung out to catch his sword as it flew in the air toward him while his left arm protected his head by taking another cut. He thrust his sword forward and the assailant was flung through the air over the side of the ship. Kayeen struggled to his knees and pointed toward the other ship. A much larger ball of fire flew forward to strike at its mainmast.

            Tiev had taken a cut on his cheeks and near the ribs but he had killed the other man. On the deck Foglaid was lying facedown on the deck with an arrow between his shoulders and everyone else was staring up at the quarterdeck. Keyeen pointed his sword toward the foredeck and eight bows were pulled from hands to fly into the sea.

            Kayeen looked towards the Mist and the crew that was desperately trying to put out two fires blazing through the sails. He made a waving motion and the fires went out. His voice came booming over both ships and crossed miles of ocean.

            Put all weapons down and hands in the air or I will burn you to ash!

            He saw those on the other ship quickly start to comply. Closer by, Damyan was running across the deck towards him. Kayeen slumped to the ground everything around him went black.


-     -     -     -     -


            Lazlo followed the trail with a heavy heart. Istvana had seen the writing on the ground, erased it and immediately came to get him. Officially nobody else would know, but everybody knew. Lazlo headed north to find his daughter and burn her corpse, while back at the Zingari settlement, word would be spreading like wildfire from one whispered ear to another. Nadezha was nowhere to be found. Lazlo was out looking for her. He would return alone and her name would never be spoken again. It had happened before with his nephew and before that, a brother. Rumor spoke to him of an uncle as well. Four in one family, why had they been cursed so?

            For more than two hours he continued north into the bitter cold before coming to the place his daughter had been just hours before. He did not find what he expected to find and this both relieved and frightened him. At first he wondered if someone else had gone ahead of him to spare him the necessity, but no, there had been no other tracks. He sniffed the air and did not sense any burning nearby. Coning closer to investigate he found two lengths of rope cleanly severed. He found the blood stain on the ground where his daughter had fallen. Her scuff marks were clear where she rose to her feet and backed to the cliff. There was the prints of the two others who had been here, but no trail leading away.

            Every Zingari knew a level of field craft. It was necessary for a wandering people to have some measure of knowledge to survive, but Lazlo was a respected older man. He left the hunting and even most trading to those with younger, nimbler bodies. He had not needed to use his skills for years and even as a youth he was far from the best in those areas. From what he could gather two others prevented the death, injured and kidnapped his daughter, and were now covering their tracks as they left. He could try to follow but the time it would take would bring him further and further behind. He needed the Drepti. Normally they would only hunt down witches but if his daughter had magic and was still alive, that should be reason enough to save her. Death would be a rescue from an even worse fate.


            How much of a lead do we have? When will someone be coming to follow you?

            I dont know. This is not something we speak of.

            Gavril sighed. Surely youve heard whispers. Do we have a day? An hour?

            More than an hour. Two, maybe three. My father will not want to find me still alive but he will not wait long enough that somebody else will stumble upon my body. It doesnt matter though. We will all be dead soon.

            Avril opened his mouth to argue the point but Gavril silenced him with a look. The three were heading towards Slobodsky, It was a small outpost in the northeast of Kyev. The town was about twice the size of Trappers Point but served the same function on the south side of the mountains. Trappers would bring their goods here and they would be shipped downriver on rafts southeast to Shinjuku where they would be loaded into riverboats for the remainder of the ride to Takino. Gavrils original plan was to use this shipping route to get to Kayeen. If the boy was right than Kayeen could possibly have already been there and gone, but it was too late to escape the gulf. If he had not already done so, he would need somewhere to winter.

            That plan was now less important than getting to Slobodsky for safety. Alone, he was much better off in the wild. As talented as the White Knives were, they wouldnt dare hunt down a Ranger in the wild. Were Avril well rested, he would do the same. Nadezha changes the picture. Their only chance was to hole up somewhere where exits and entrances could easily be covered until he and the boy were recovered from their journey through the pass. If they didnt get to Slobodsky in time they didnt stand a chance.

            How many White Knives, how many Drepti, are in the settlement?

            A dozen. No, thirteen, Nadezha answered.

            Gavril just grunted in response. There was maybe twice that in the whole world. No chance that half of them all happened to be here through the winter. He guessed there would be three or four plus a few teachers and maybe ten students. The teachers would never leave and the students would never go far, or be sent to hunt so they would not count. If they were lucky the Zingari would only send one at first. They might survive that and then have time for escape before the rest pick up the chase. If all are sent we would all die quickly.


-     -     -     -     -


            Rowyh sat on the ground with his back leaning on the trunk of a tree while the older of the two blond giants stood guard next to him. The man seemed to instinctively keep himself between Rowyh and the forest around him even though he never looked down. His sword remained out at his side and his eyes continued to dart toward every movement the wind or an animal made in the distance.

            The skinnier one walked towards the two ponies and pulled out two canteens. He looked to be more at ease but that look was deceptive. He was just as quick to glance up at any perceived movement in the wild. His long sword was sheathed but from somewhere he had pulled a knife about twice the length of the daggers that had been used against him. For a moment he held that knife between his teeth as he wrapped a strip of cloth around the cut on the back of his neck. He then used water from one of the canteens to clean the cut on his cheek.

            Do you have a name?

            Rowyh was watching the other man and was exhausted enough that he did not recognize that the big man near him was speaking.

            My names Willhelm. Thats Paeder. What do they call you?

            Sorry, my name is Rowyh.

            Rowyh. Huh, youre a bit young to be a bard.

            Thats Riyah. Rowyh is dreamer. They say as a boy I always had my head in the clouds.

            Your parents had some foresight with that name. Im assuming, with a White Knife after you, that youre a Seer?

            Yes. We call it Farsight, though.

            Are you strong enough to use it now?

            No. I havent been able for nearly two days. I didnt think I would be able to make it to you in time.

            Willhelm grunted at this. It was a close run thing. Couldnt get much closer. It would have been nice to know if that assassin is still out there.

            Rowyh nodded in agreement. Then he blushed when he realized that this Willhelm would not have been able to see the gesture. Through the entire conversation he did not once stop looking out at the trees around them.

            A canteen landed on the ground right between Rowyhs legs. His head came up in surprise and banged the tree behind him.

            Sorry, Paeder said. Didnt mean to scare you. You look like you could drink both these down and then some.

Rowyh rubbed the back of his head as he replied. Thank you. And thank you both for saving my life.

Were not done doing that yet. That White Knife is still out there and hes not going to give up the opportunity to take out two people with the Talent.

Rowyh looked up at Willhelm at that. He knew that all three had the Talent, but for some reason this man was not acknowledging that the skinny one knew magic. When he thought about it, he saw nothing during the fight to show that Paeder did. Then again, if the white knife was close enough to be listening, why give away a potential advantage. Plus, if he and Willhelm were both killed, perhaps the White Knife would not bother with killing Paeder too.

It seemed Paeders thoughts spun in a similar direction and he did not like it. He said nothing about it, though when he looked down towards Rowyh. Can you ride a pony? We need to get moving, unless its safer to stay here?

Willhelm shook his head no at the question. Theres a clearing ahead closer to the river. We will make camp there. It will give us a good line of sight for a good distance in every direction. Rowyh, you will have to ride but do your best to stay low. If this assassin is still close, he will most likely try again before we reach it. The best weapon White Knives have against a Pusher is surprise.


Rowyh mounted up and they had covered little more than half the distance to that clearing when Willhelm proved right. Both swordsmen were so intent at looking out that they did not see what was right above them. The White Knife fell from a branch above straight down towards Rowyh. Willhelm shouted, No! and used his Talent to throw the Mitsremi boy from the pony. A knife thrust forward to cut along Rowyhs back as he was launched through the air.

Paeder reached up to catch a leg and pulled him down behind him while he spun bringing his sword up in a guard stance. At the same time Willhelm swung through the air right above that ponys head. He was too late. The White Knife had landed with both on the pony and jumped back up to flip right over Willhelm. The swordsman spun around as a knife embedded itself just below his jaw on the right side. He swung wildly but the assassin jumped away with contemptuous ease. Ignoring the knife for the moment, Willhelm turned to position his sword and balance to guard. The White Knife had backed away and was now working his way behind the ponies to come against the other two.

Paeders face was red with rage as he faced the man cautiously coming towards him. He saw the blood flowing from the knife wound his cousin had taken and yelled out, Enough!

It was if an invisible hand had grabbed the assassin and slammed him against the ground. The white knife tried to bring his hands up to block the fall but the action only succeeded in breaking both arms. He tried to ignore the pain and scramble to his feet but he was not in time. Paeder rushed forward and hacked down inelegantly between his neck and shoulder. He raised his sword and kicked out. The White Knife used the kick to try and throw himself away from his attacker but was pulled back with magic to be impaled on Paeders sword. He died instantly.

            Paeder turned toward his cousin to see that he had dropped his sword and both hands were trying to staunch the blood flow around the knife. Rowyh was on his hands and knees on the other side bleeding and in pain as well but both men were looking at Paeder in shock. He turned toward Willhelm first. He ripped a strip off the bottom of his tunic and placed it in Willhelms hands. Then he held the knife carefully and pulled it straight back so as to avoid making the incision any larger. As soon as it was out, Willhelm took the cloth and pushed it against the wound.

            When Paeder had helped lay Willhelm down with his head elevated, he turned toward the stranger who had brought all this trouble on his heels. Rowyh had already pulled his own cloak up so Paeder could see the slash along his back. It was a six inch cut about halfway up the back but it did not look deep. Paeder had him remain on his hands and knees. He used some more water from the canteen to wash out the wound then ripped another strip from his tunic. He wrapped the strip tightly around Rowyh then had him lay facedown on the ground.

            Paeder turned to look back at the dead White Knife. The man looked so small and frail now as he lay motionless on the ground. He wiped the long sword he had dropped after the fight on that red stained white cloak. Sheathing it, he turned to survey the scene around him. This was not a good spot to remain, but how was he supposed to get an injured and exhausted young man, two frightened and quivering ponies, and his dying cousin to a better camp? The fight was over but his work was just beginning.

-- Edited by Beejai on Sunday 27th of January 2013 12:28:49 AM

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